Village-like quality of Locust Point will survive a little gentrification


Glitz, grit expected to go well together in this community

June 11, 2000|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Steve and Deloris Lenivy, now in their mid-70s, have never owned a car, which wouldn't be so unusual for people living in the hub of a metropolis.

But the Lenivys live in Locust Point, a neighborhood that until recently has been the forgotten stretch in the golden rim of Inner Harbor development.

They found their Locust Point home in 1951 for $6,000, from talking to people in the neighborhood. For transportation in such a tight-knit community, they could always depend on family or friends who lived nearby to give them a lift to the market.

Through the years - with truck traffic from the working waterfront so close - they always worried whether their home would appreciate.

They don't have to worry any more.

As rehab masters Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse readies the Procter & Gamble five-building complex to draw high-tech businesses, some handicappers might wager that the Lenivys' neighborly world may be facing extinction. Locust Point has all the elements for a gentrification scenario where glitz replaces grit.

But this isn't your typical developer vs. small-town America blood match. For one thing, developer C. William Struever loves grit, especially as an architectural finish. Secondly, Locust Point's tight community isn't just atmosphere, but a force of nature that seems to be checking the urge to overdevelop.

Calling Locust Point the next Canton may be an overstatement, according to some of those involved in real estate in the neighborhood, be they developers, prospective homebuyers or someone in the middle.

"You don't see a lot of houses available in Locust Point," said Jim French, Southern District planner for the Baltimore Planning Department. "A lot of those people have been in there for generations and they're not going anywhere."

And, French said, the neighborhood doesn't have the commercial infrastructure of Canton.

"Fort Avenue is not Boston Street," he said.

The Locust Point home-buying network is so insular that many times sellers have no need to put out "for sale" signs.

French also points out that Locust Point still functions as an industrial site with access to rail and deep-water ports.

Westway Terminal Co., Perishable Deliveries, Archer Daniels Midland, Steinweg and the North and South Locust Point Marine Terminals make the neighborhood's harborside a real working waterfront.

"I don't get the sense that the industrial area of Canton is as intertwined with the neighborhood," he said.

Sandy Marenberg, project director for Struever Rouse Homes, said that unlike Canton, which had faced economic hard times since the canning industry closed, Locust Point didn't need saving. It hurt when Procter & Gamble left, but the neighborhood still had some industry.

Marenberg added that, when Canton started booming, people were moving there for the waterside charm, not for its tight-knit community.

"I think Locust Point has something that Canton didn't have when it started," Marenberg said. "That's the strength of Locust Point."

John May, an appraiser, said the number of property transfers has increased, indicating that the housing market is climbing. He said homes that haven't been renovated start at $40,000 to $50,000, while rehabbed homes tend to hover in the $120,000 price range.

But May also said Locust Point doesn't have all the fringe goodies that attract the young money or the empty-nesters.

"You've got to remember, you're dealing with young yuppies who like to party, they like their bagel shops and their gourmet coffees and Locust Point doesn't have that right now," May said.

While Locust Point might lack the frills, May said he wouldn't be surprised to see home prices double in the next few years.

Tracy Gosson, director of the Live Baltimore Marketing Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to urban living, sees unlimited promise in Locust Point, named after its once-ubiquitous locust trees.

She said the waterfront proximity is a priceless draw for a neighborhood in the midst of revitalization. Locust Point has stability and two parks in Fort McHenry and Latrobe Park. As far as amenities like cafes and restaurants, that's one development away.

"I think Locust Point is definitely going to be a neighborhood that is rolling off the tongue of everybody like Federal Hill and Fells Point," she said.

For more than a year now, sellers have been trying to get more for their homes. According to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. - the Realtors' multiple-listing system - three homes are on the market, two listed for $159,900 and the other at $42,000.

In 1998, 27 homes sold for an average price of $62,899. Last year, the average bumped up to $70,042 for 27 homes sold. So far in 2000, 36 homes have been sold at an average of $67,576 and an average listing price of $73,457.

Mary Zimmerman, a Realtor with Ron Zimmerman Realty, described Locust Point as being on the "fringe of being hot." She said Locust Point is still a place that has to be "discovered."

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